A lot of students take the mandatory classes for their education but not necessarily what they are talented to do. Fortunately my experience at Cass Tech – proud alumna, Class of 2002 – nurtured my individual talents, and I was able to choose my curriculum. Because my schooling was based on my interests, I was more inclined to work hard and do well. It’s because of the base I built at Cass Tech that I was able to make my dreams come true, and share my story today from the beautiful island of New Zealand.

When I began at Cass Tech, I was quickly inspired by the art and photography department. My teachers were really encouraging and helped us push ourselves further than we thought we could go, boosting our self-confidence when we saw how much we could achieve. The curriculum was so specialized and specific to each student that it gave me a really strong background in the visual arts, and I developed quite a portfolio, which was a big help in getting grants and scholarships for the next step in my journey: college.

My dream was to go to New York and be an artist, so I submitted my portfolio to four different arts schools. I was accepted to three of them and chose the School of Visual Arts, where I earned my bachelor’s degree. I stayed in New York until 2011, when I uprooted myself with a one-way ticket to Hawaii. I met my husband, and we started working together as photographers. When he asked if I was ready for a big adventure, I jumped at the chance to tour the Pacific Islands with him, and we have had the pleasure filming and photographing within the French Polynesian islands. Our latest stop brings us to New Zealand, and we’re working toward our goals of helping nonprofit organizations with concerns about the world that really matter to us.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Detroit Public Schools. The teachers were so influential in helping me develop my craft and my passions. If I hadn’t had the mentorship of those educators and other adults willing to dedicate their time, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities in my life.

When my sister Naima Mora (also a Cass Tech alumna and a winner of America’s Next Top Model) came back to Detroit to help students, I was inspired by her involvement, and I can’t wait to get back to the city to offer my own support, to be the same kind of positive influence as those who helped me.

I encourage all DPS alumni to get creative in how they support Detroit students. If you are passionate about what you believe in, you need to share it with younger people. I believe when you become a successful person, there’s a responsibility to give back to a community who nurtured and raised you.